Friday, April 27, 2007

Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas: Sam Durant (editor) (Rizzoli) I recently used this space to note several of the better books I have read about the Black Panther Party. I gave particular attention to the recent photography collection by Stephen Shames. Since then this other, even more amazing book of Panther art has come to light. Emory Douglas was the heart of the revolutionary group first called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. His brilliant, outrageous, right-on drawings for the Black Panther newspaper spoke with more clarity than many thousands of words. He took the often difficult, vanguard ideology of Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seals and others and transformed them into startlingly direct and clear and bold images. His drawings and paintings were headshots on-target every time, a metaphor necessary and right. Douglas flawlessly captures the evils of white supremacy -- the slavery legacy leeching into the black ghettos of 20th America not the least beautiful. It is difficult to select any one or two of Emory Douglas’ pieces that best represents his greatness. There is one Black Panther: Black Community News Service cover that is particularly ferocious and true. On the September 27, 1969 issue: two of Douglas’ drooling ratmen are posed against an American flag backdrop. The ratman who is labeled “Nixon” is busy buttfucking the ratman labeled “Mitchell”. Mr. Attorney General rat has one paw against the flag for support. With his free paw he is handing an indictment of the Black Panthers “wanted dead for conspiracy of exposing America” to a very small ratman labeled “Daily.” With this superficially crude and profane drawing of the type one might expect to see on the men’s room wall, Douglas tells a complex story of political corruption and power misused. Years before the story of COINTELPRO came to light, the whole rotten enterprise is accurately depicted as pure legally defined obscenity. Elsewhere Douglas is subtle and poetic. A boy in loose pajama bottoms stands before a photograph of a young girl drinking from a cup. A single teardrop is at the corner of his eye. The caption reads: “my mother told me that we may be bare-footed and hungry, but that won’t stop our struggle for freedom.” The artwork within the pages of Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas stands the time test. I do not doubt the art of Andy Warhol will be admired, if not enjoyed, 100 years into the future. I am likewise certain that Warhol's contemporary, Emory Douglas will be considered an artist of equal quality, perhaps greater socio-cultural significance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Barry Werth: 31 Days: Gerald Ford, the Nixon Pardon, and a Government in Crisis (Anchor Books) The forces of history are seldom gentle and never predictable. Congressman Gerald Ford would no doubt have been a forgotten Republican Party hack, if he had not been yanked to the center of the biggest scandal in the history of his party and appointed to the position routinely described as the most powerful in the world. A week into his controversial administration pundits at the television networks were declaring his presidency a success and crediting Ford with having turned the tables on the Democrats. Weeks later, near the end of “impeachment summer” the most learned of network pundits, Eric Sevareid was already having second thoughts, as a possible presidential pardon for Nixon increasingly became the issue of the day. This new book is an often astonishingly detailed account of the first month of the first appointed executive administration in U.S. history. Barry Werth describes the crucial events as they unfold, often stepping back to fill in background details. The careful student of the game of politics and anyone wanting to avoid the mistakes of recent history will want to include 31 Days on their reading list.
Jules Witcover: Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon & Spiro Agnew (PublicAffairs) Spiro Agnew, a nasty man with an ugly name, turned everything he touched into a thing in no way resembling gold. Even a tool of the poets such as alliteration, became a dull edged weapon in his hands, much as Agnew himself served in the hands of Richard Nixon. We laughed at Agnew because we were too frightened and too angry to cry. Half a century later, the study of the Nixon/Agnew administration continues to give us much to brood over in the form of book upon book. Jules Witcover himself is something of a one-man production line, having already written several books on the subject. Yet, as our government continues to disappoint, as corruption continues to find new avenues toward the same awful ends, it is hard to argue that we do not need to learn from the atrocious failure that was the Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew administration. Very Strange Bedfellows is an old story with new details, built upon ever increasing new sources of information. Bob Woodward called Nixon’s White House tapes “the gift that keeps on giving.” That description could just as well be used to describe the whole sordid Nixon administration. Witcover’s new book perhaps relies too heavily upon his previous books, but there are new details worth finding. It would be a huge stretch to say this new Watergate related book is needed, but those like myself who can never quite get enough of this topic will certainly want to read it. Those who are new to the study of Agnew and his accomplices could hardly find a better or more entertaining place to begin.